That’s according to Simon Iopu, the manager of the national team that scrapped and fought hard, but ultimately came away winless at the Hong Kong qualifiers tournament.
At the “spiritual home of sevens”, the Cook Islands were the only non-professional team and other squads were surprised that the Manatoa had only assembled four days previously, while most of the competing teams had been together for around six months.
Despite not winning any of their three matches against Ireland, Uruguay and Jamaica, the team still came away with some lessons for the future.
“We’ve identified key areas that we need to fix and the main one is we have to stop the leaking tries. Our defence will become a concentrated priority and we will own it like never before,” Iopu said.
“Our fitness is also a priority, but game fitness is a necessity which means we need to play tournaments in New Zealand, Australia and in the Pacific Islands.
“How that is achieved is purely financial, so the CIRU have their work cut out for them.”
Iopu said there needed to be an “in or out, mentality”.
“One thing is clear cut - sevens is what we can be very successful at, but CIRU have to pour in the resources or discard the programme all together and concentrate on something else.”
He also said that every player that travelled to Hong Kong had deserved to be there.
Although some have questioned why professional players were not picked, Iopu said that the chosen team had sacrificed a huge amount and had put their country before themselves.
Each member turned up to training and committed to the strict training regime of coach Vase Samania, whereas some players did not make the cut because they were asking for payment.
“It’s very easy for the general public to criticise our performance, or the lack thereof, but I can assure you we do not lack heart or passion to represent our country.
“These players have sacrificed their bodies, families, time and money to get into the best shape possible for Hong Kong.
“I can assure you there are team members who have put themselves in debt to be on this tour and represent (their country).”
Iopu thanked Air Raro and Fitness Revolution who he said had been instrumental in their support of the team.
He also thanked Don and Rachel Guinea, Brent and Maria York, Mr and Mrs Barry Mitchell and the Cook Islands community in Hong Kong who supported the team there.
“We would also like to thank the thousands and thousands of supporters, local and afar, for always remaining positive and optimistic about what we are trying to achieve as a rugby programme, and for defending our honour.
“As you well know, the trenches are deep, but the sacrifice is every bit worth it and only a few can hack it.”
The next challenge for the national sevens squad is the qualifiers in November.